Last weekend Fish Hook Lake was busy. There were groups concentrated in several sections of the lake; some angling, some spearing, some inside fish houses, some on the open ice, hoping to catch everything from panfish to pike and everything in between.
My goal for the day was to catch some bluegill and crappie in the middle of the afternoon, which is typically a time when fewer fish are active. But that's not always the case.
I began to explore, grinding out hole after hole along a 100-yard stretch where nobody had fished.
I did find some active fish but even when there's activity, I still try to find areas where there's better size and more abundance.
After an hour or so a family of two adults and four kids walked out to fish. I watched the father hand-auger a couple holes and imagined how strenuous it would have been to drill the sixty holes I had dug without my Jiffy gas auger.
After the family was set up and the kids all had rods in their hands, the father walked over and asked, "Any luck?" I was honest and invited the family to use the holes I drilled, pointing out the most productive areas.
Then I left to search yet another stretch of untouched ice.
The bluegills were hungry and the action was consistent, but the average size was minimal. Nonetheless, I was having fun. It didn't matter that only a few were "keepers" because I wasn't keeping anything anyway. And when I finally heard the youngest child from the family of anglers exclaim, "I caught a fish," my day was perfect.
Then a local angler emerged from one of the permanent shanties and approached me as I crouched over my sonar. We talked and she inquired about my success before I asked about hers.
"You're not catching the big bluegills because there's a large northern lurking in the area," she said. "How big?" I asked.
She said the fish was over 10 pounds, maybe even 15. She had it hooked a few days earlier but it had straightened out her hook and never moved when she pulled back on the rod. After talking fishing for a few minutes she walked back to her cozy, heated shack.
Two days later I picked up the mail, a pile of Christmas letters and photos in their stiff envelopes. One return address wasn't familiar.
The woman I had chatted with sent me a card and stated that maybe the fish was "only" ten pounds. Then she apologized for taking up my fishing time with her story of such a "little" fish.
To be honest, a fish smaller than 10 pounds is a wonderful battle, no matter the species. And even the 3 or 4 pounders and 3 or 4-ouncers are a joy to catch. Each and every fish, no matter the size, has a place in my heart and it should in yours too, no matter your age or experience.